The political campaign recently launched by Iran could be evidence that Iran is also preparing for a post-Assad era in Syria. On Tuesday, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili visited Beurit, as Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials.
On Thursday, Russia and China are expected to participate in a conference for nations with “a realistic position on the situation in Syria” in Teheran. The conference is meant to be a counterbalance to other groups of nations that support “the Syrian people,” meaning the opposition. Interestingly, the meeting is not being defined as a conference for keeping President Bashar Assad in power.
Officially, Jalili’s talks in Damascus and Beirut, including talks with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, were meant to examine a possible diplomatic solution for the Syrian conflict, and talks in Ankara were meant to enlist Turkish help in securing the release of dozens of Iranian citizens taken captive by rebels in Damascus.
Jalili’s visit to Turkey started off on the wrong foot. Prior to the visit, Iranian military chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi made aggressive statements warning Turkey and its allies that their continued position on the Syrian conflict will spark the next outbreak of violence. The comments were immediately met with forceful criticism from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The exchange, which shows that there is a deep dissonance among Iranian leadership, became the focus of Jalili’s talks in Ankara.
Syrian and Lebanese analysts however, extrapolate that the real objective behind Iran’s new political campaign is to secure a position of influence in Syria and Lebanon after the fall of Assad.
Iran, it seems, estimates that Russia has begun to distance itself from its prior position, and that the pro-Assad coalition is headed for collapse. During the last two weeks, Russia has not made any statements in support of Assad or the Syrian regime. After a number of vetoes against UN Security Council decisions, the failure of Kofi Annan, and following criticism from the international community on its positions, Russia has been keeping a low profile.
Russia has not been laying low just because of international pressure, but rather also in light of the assumption that Assad no longer controls every region of the country, and it seems that the internal mechanisms of Assad’s rule are crumbling as well.
Therefore, Iran is stepping into Russia’s shoes as the public diplomatic driving force behind last-ditch efforts to create a pro-Assad coalition. The Iranian concern however, is greater than that of Russia.
Russia can rely on the fact that any regime that comes to power in Syria would want to uphold positive relations, where as the Syrian opposition harbors a vendetta against Iran. Russian soldiers never killed Syrian civilians, and Russia even met with opposition leaders. With Iran, however, there is a score to settle. Iranian military officials are advising the Syrian army, Iran continues to send money to the Syrian regime, and Iran and the Syrian regime are considered a part of the Shi’ite bloc working against the Sunni majority in the country.
According to Jalili’s public declarations, Iran is still loyal to the Syrian regime, and is standing with Assad. However at this point Iran should urgently consider other options. Iran has proved its talents in operating by way of separatist minority groups, and suspicions exist that Iran will do just that in post-Assad Syria. For example, Iran is already attempting to recruit the Kurdish minority in Syria – a tie that would threaten Turkey.
Perhaps Iran would want to adopt the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which it has historically given a cold shoulder. The Brotherhood could be active among the large amount of volunteers that stepped up to fight the Syrian regime, and attempt to forge a base of power from which it could influence the formation of the next Syrian government, as it did in Iraq and Lebanon, and tried to do in Yemen.
In this strategy, Assad and his followers no longer have a part to play. Thus, as the west continues to condemn the Syrian regime, convene councils and fund the opposition, Iran is preparing the ground for two scenarios: If Assad stays in power, Iran will continue to reap the benefits of Syrian support, and if Assad is driven from power, Iran will make every effort to become the nation with the most influence in Syria, by way of “agent organizations” it manages to recruit.
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